South Dakota Fail

My original plan was to leave Yellowstone and head to the Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks in South Dakota. Easier said than done –I learned. I was travelling through Wyoming in 95 degree heat up these really intense mountains. I went on two scenic byways which were unbelievable but hard on the car. After a couple hours, while going up a nearly vertical hill my precious car went put-put –it was gentle but enough for me to freak out and seek refuge at the first place I saw amongst the rocky landscape. Happened to be a little hick bar full of hilarious drunks! I pulled up and of course their all in this up roar about the car. I pretty much ignored their car comments because I became pretty hardened to it because in Yellowstone every single person was having a near heart attach about the car. They were so aggressive about taking pictures and firing questions. Normally I love talking to people about the car and love the ice breaker but the attention became way too much for me to handle! Anyways, I fly out of the car and tell the group of strangers I’m worried about my baby car and of course upon hearing car maintenance a bunch of men came running. While they checked out all the whoits and whatsit of my car I chatted with the drunk ladies who thought I was absolutely crazy. I gave them my story and what I’m all about and they went into mom mode and were all sorts of worried about my safety.

“I’d at least feel a little better if you carried a G-U-N!” they agreed. “What’s a G-U-N?” I asked, like the ditz I am. “A GUN, sweetheart! You are that naïve and you’re travelling the world?!” Kind of bitchy but I loved them. The men decided that my car was okay, just needed oil and probably wanted a rest from the heat and climbing. So I hung out for an hour and had an absolute blast with those ladies and their cowboy and cowgirl off spring.

They all wished me luck and I headed on my way to the nearest town. At a gas station some preteen boys outgoingly shouted hello and whats up at me while I prepaid. I thought they were funny and when I got out of the bathroom and pumped my gas the younger one –probably 14 gave me a bouncy ball he apparently won out of the claw machine just for me. I was so touched and said thank you a thousand times which made him blush and ask me to be his girlfriend: how cute! Surprisingly I declined his courtship. Then outside some other guy gave me the worst pick up line that I deeply hate, “hey do I know you? You look so familiar!” Yeah, right –whatever, ain’t nobody got time for that. I told him no he doesn’t know me but he can give me a ride to get oil and help me figure out what oil to get and put it in for me. And he happily agreed –turned out he was a young mechanic: jackpot! He put in the oil and checked everything out for me and told me I was safe to keep going. I love how good things always happen and right when you need people they are always there. Also I was reminded briefly Elizabeth Gilbert writing about what she called “Pretty Power” in her book Eat, Pray, Love.

I concluded I loved my car more than my desire to go to more desert parks and headed back to my brother’s house. During the five hour car ride I was totally blissed out: blasting music and singing to the full moon –which I think it appreciated. Also, on that drive I got my favorite: an awesome cloud, beat red and orange sunset where the rays shout out of the clouds and penetrated the interesting rock formations. All in all I ended up going two hours out of my way but man, it was so worth it to meet all those people and have that adventure! Four people that day told me they would never ever forget meeting me, making my heart sore higher than the full moon. People are so wonderful –what a wonderful world!

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Jellystone

 

During a particularly long hike I got extremely hot so me being me I thought nothing of stripping down–don’t freak out, I had a bikini top on, short-shorts, and I was barefoot: a pretty normal outfit for me. After a couple minutes I noticed the crowd I was in; 20-30 Asian tourists completely covered head to foot and face with clothing shielding them from the sun, even the men were totally covered up in baggy modest clothing. Then to my right I noticed the 15 Middle Eastern tourists all in burkas, long sleeves, and long pants. I got that paranoid feeling we Americans get when we think people around us are all obviously talking smack in their foreign languages –like Hispanic girls in the bathroom in high school. I had to laugh –I mean picture it, my goodness all those people must think I am the biggest whore on the planet. Hopping into my rainbow car probably added some confusion to their perception as well.

I really enjoyed the scenic drives I did to Fire hole Lake and Fire Hole Canyon –not only was the morning mist coming off the Geyser amazing it lead my eye to see Buffalo graving in the tall grass near the forest. I made really good friends with an elderly Australian couple, the husband of which was a professional nature photographer intensely in favor of my traveling. He informed that he had been travelling ever since he was a small army brat and the courageous, up-for-anything attitudes you cultivate when travelling lead him to incredible success. And the travel-savvy street smarts he learned while visiting other countries later helped him get to incredible places for pictures and shaped his people loving, grounded personality. Needless to say, this old guy became my hero and he was all about me and my goals. More road magic!

After swimming in bath warm water surrounded by giant yellow cliffs I drove to bubbling mud pots and crazy colored pools for more hiking. Normally on non-transit days I try and hike ten miles –but in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone I had been doing at least fifteen miles a day. I’m not sure if this increase in motion caused it, but I began having intense pain in my left foot. I mean, horrible shooting, debilitating pain up my leg and through my toes. I was limping down trails for a couple days. Finally I broke down and sought out help at the Yellowstone Clinic, unfortunately an entire heard of Elk were blocking the entrance –a problem you probably only run into at Yellowstone.

So I decided to go to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone –I had been before with my mom and brother when I was around ten years old so it was really cool to go back and see it all again. The canyon was so picturesque; yellow cliffs with two giant waterfalls, a winding river, boulders, and some trees going out the side of the rocks! Then to the giant Mammoth Hot Springs which is definitely another planet –huge grey sulfur castles with deep holes like craters at sunset. I did the long board walk hike around the springs and went back to the clinic. Not to start social banter but it really sucked being turned away yet again –this time not because of Elk but because I didn’t have enough money for someone to look at my foot. I was so incredibly hurt the nurse wouldn’t even feel to see if it was swollen or advise me to ice it without getting a credit card first!

I left Yellowstone taking the long scenic drives to the east exit so I could see the massive Yellowstone Lake and drive through the pretty forest. The trip was amazing but it was incredibly lonely –minus the great girl time with my hosts. I began counting down the days until Fred and I would meet back up and realized that while it is nice to not have to compromise, convince, and basically do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it’s not nearly as fun to experience natures slender alone. Happiness is real when shared.

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Yellowstone – Into the Mystic

If I hadn’t been driving, I would have never believed Yellowstone was on planet Earth. This park is amazing -it showcases nature’s immense diversity and God’s imagination. Fred had visited Yellowstone before me and sent me a long list of must dos and even hooked me up with a group of girls that worked there that had picked him up. Camping is impossible in busy Yellowstone; you have to make reservations for campsites at least a year in advance, not exactly my style, so the girls suggested I sleep in the van on the down low. Road magic! First place I went upon entering the park was The Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the heavily photographed deep spring with rich psychedelic color tones. Then onto Fairy Falls, which was a long thin waterfall that ran off a cliff into a shallow basin –probably the most boring hike ever, but the falls are worth it!

Old Faithful was of course quite the amazement but the build up to that great moment when it erupted made me lose faith in humanity. I sat next to a sweet old lady saving seats for her family and we did some chit chatting. Her grandkids came up and complained about the limited food choices at the lodge and began raving about the bad cell reception. Really? You are at one of nature’s most magnificent wonders and what –you want to play bubble shooter or some game about pissed off birds?! Lame. The Grandmother told them that the last time she saw Old Faithful she was a little girl the same age as her grandson, their response was “this is so boring! Can’t we just go to the gift shop and back to the hotel?!” Children are cruel and ignorant; I think I’m allergic to them. Also there were just tons of people, way too many people aggressively taken photos. Upon entering the park a ranger told me that they have enough accommodation for one million people in a summer, but they get upwards of three and a half million! All of which, I believe were at Old Faithful the same time as me.

After the awesome eruption and time spent ooh and ahhing, I decided to do the huge Geyser loop. I visited all the springs and Geysers and had a blast! They were absolutely amazing: bubbling and hissing holes in the Earth with 400 degree water sputtering out –wow! The colors were great too, the different bacteria and natural chemicals turning the pools orange, brown, green, blue, teal, yellow, and red. Reminds me of a Sunny School song I will never forget, “Jesus you sure know how to color!”

I got extremely excited when I saw a trail head for Mystic Waterfall; one of my favorite songs of all time is Into The Mystic by Van Morrison and I jogged the trail, pumped to have to opportunity to go into the mystic just like Van sings! The waterfall was absolutely beautiful and I didn’t hesitate to strip down and jump in. The falls were intense with tons of rocks at the base and a fast moving current. After submerged I had to hang on tightly to rocks so I didn’t go rushing down the river to a certain concussion -water slid style. It was a real euphoric moment for me being in the mystic and I had the most blissed out hike back to the Geysers. I felt high as a kite, soaking wet, emanating total joy and light to all the terrified looks from other tourists and laughing off the concerned “did you go into that water?!”

The more I travel the more I realize how brave of a person I actually am –contrary to what I’ve always believed. The idea of, ‘this may be the only time I am ever here’ really adds a lot to my activities because it forces me to always live in the moment and experience it to the fullest. Now if I even have the hint of an idea such as ‘I wonder what is up there,’ or ‘I should do ___ or go to ___’ I just do it without reserve. Even if I’m weary about having to push myself to be bold or do something that will lead to discomfort I try to dive (sometimes literally) right into it. Not only does this lead to more self-confidence and pride, but going a little farther always leads to something good –always. Also, you know that age old law that an object that is in motion, stays in motion? I believe it works the same for bravery and fun; the more daring, spontaneous, happy, crazy activities I do the more I can do and the easier they are to do. I’m sure everyone knows this but it was a really important thing for me to discover –and has brought me football fields closer to total bliss.

Mystic Falls

Mystic Falls

Grand Prismatic -best name ever!

Grand Prismatic -best name ever!

Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls

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The Grand Tetons

Driving northwest through Wyoming is just about as boring as it gets: miles and miles of arid, hot desert land with the occasional interesting rock formation and wild sunflowers growing on the side of the road. But then, out of nowhere I’m in the forest. Into the Grand Teton National Park, located just under Yellowstone National Park –pine trees and wild flowers speckled the landscape just under the towering, magnificence Teton Mountains.

My first day there I arrived in the late afternoon, after doing a little scenic drive I decided to hike a three mile loop trail It was beautiful, rocky, and full of little scurrying creatures. I hiked to the top of the grand lookout point and continued on my way. After about an hour I realized that the trail signs were wrong, dead wrong. They’d say “1.4 Miles to Lake” then after two miles there’d be a sign reading, “3.8 Miles to Parking Lot”. What?! This ridiculous sign play kept continuing nothing matched up with the map, signs, or Google maps on my phone. So a three mile hike turned into an eleven mile stressed out hike. Which wasn’t particularly fun because it was 8 o’clock at night, getting dark and I was all alone without bear spray. I think park rangers advice against all three of those things. But hey, I made it out boiled a potato and slept in my car to avoid the good ol’ bear mauling: good day.

I spent the next couple days waking up super early and going for scenic hikes around the park and seeing the waterfalls. I got to see lots of sunrise wildlife, including a coyote that had just caught mouse and lots of male elk grazing. I slowed down in my car to observe the coyote on the side of the road, he looked at me mouse in mouth, and started running through the woods parallel to the road so I got to follow him for a couple of minutes, it was magical. The male elk had huge antlers and moved slowly in the meadow, misting in the morning with the Grand Tetons in the background –the sunrise turning the gray rock into pinkish orange.

I went to the famous Jenny Lake and did a ten mile hike up to the North Cascade region. I also did lots of hikes to the scenic outlooks, the rivers were my favorite: freezing, but beautiful, the water crystal clear with giant trout swimming upstream.

The Tetons certainly create their own weather, in one day I experienced sunshine, thunderstorms, wind, rain, more sunshine, and then partially cloudy skies. I really enjoyed that because ever since a special day in Colorado, I cannot stop looking at the clouds. The cloud changes over the Tetons was breath taking and lovely –I love when the sun shoots its rays through the clouds, and numerous times it did so on my trip; illuminating patches of meadows and parts of the mountains.

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Colorado Summertime!

Through weirdness I ended up staying at a farm near Boulder where I met other farm hands that were going to a Bluegrass Festival.

The other workers took me in and were so amazingly kind to me. The Bluegrass Festival was held in a town called Telluride. The story behind that unique name goes like this: back in the hay day of mining the town was established. The town moto was that if you tell anyone about the town, you have to ride out of town: leave. Completely surrounded by mountains every way you look, with long thin waterfalls shooting out from the top of the mountains –totally straight out of The Lord of the Rings movies! I was enchanted, and on top of beautiful scenery I got to listen to amazing bluegrass music. Everyone I met said this festival was the highlight of their year and completely encompassed the spirit of Colorado.  I felt like the luckiest girl ever. It was nice making lots of friends and dancing the night away to banjo music. The night of the full ‘Super Moon’ all 3,000 people howled at the moon as it came up behind the mountain’s peaks and silhouetted the pine trees. Once fully raised the Super Moon had a rainbow circling around it, and the band played twangy moon related music. “Take time to howl at the moon,” everyone sang: pure magic.

One morning I woke up feeling very low, I missed Fred fiercely and walked into town for a Chia Tea pick me up. I went to a funky bookstore and went right to the self-help relationship section.  I timidly choose a cheesy titled relationship book and read holding back tears. When I had to get up to get more cream for my drink I made sure to tuck the book upside down and halfway under my purse so no one passing by could see what I was reading. As soon as I stepped away from my table the guy sitting next to me grabs the book and reads loudly the title: “If the Buddha Dated”. I was mortified but he and I ended up talking for several hours and vowed to meet up after the festival.

You never know what’s going to happen or who you’re going to meet –I’ve learned that everything and everyone turns out to be important.

After the festival I chilled in Boulder for a couple days and then headed up to Fort Collins, Colorado. At the festival I unexpectedly met Fred’s best friend, Casey, old girlfriend. We recognized each other through facebook pictures and hit it off right away spending time together at the shows. She, Robin, invited me to stay with her and her two roommates in Fort Collins. I was thrilled to be staying in a house full of girls after living with the house full of boys in Denver.

The girls were great! All art majors, music junkies, beautiful, and incredibly sweet and funny. We went to shows together, got frozen yogurt at midnight (most nights), went on hikes, watched chick flicks, went camping, and talked talked talked! I also went with their huge group of friends to see Railroad Earth play at the Red Rock Amphitheater –okay, this venue is amazing; huge burnt red boulders come shooting out of the ground at perfect angles to direct the sound at the audience who are on a hill. Which is great because then everyone can see the band and still have dancing room with unbelievable sound. Truly natural out did it self at that place!

After being in Fort Collins for a couple weeks, girling it up, I went back to the Rocky Mountain National Park and met up with my friend from the coffee shop and did a little camping trip. Watching the sunset over the peaks of the Rockies was the highlight of that trip –and red, orange, and pink is blazed into my memory.

Colorado was amazingly beautiful with the mountains, boulders, streams, forests, wildlife, great music scene, constant parties, activities, and unbelievably attractive people (the whole time I was there I don’t think I saw anyone under 20 or over 40, and everyone is super healthy and in shape). But I was happy to leave -you know that sang “too much birthday”? They made a Bernstein Bear book about it –anyways, I felt like I had too much Colorado; always staying up 2 or 3am with a day completely full of people and parties. It was fun, a super college kid scene but it left me feeling very un centered. Plus, I didn’t do all that much camping in Colorado (I was there a month or so and only camped for a week and a half) and house-life makes me feel anxious. In conclusion, I got itchy feet and was very much looking forward to leaving and going to Yellowstone -getting back into my camp-life routine.

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Salt Lake, Military, and Mountains

We went to the Great Salt Lake but it was mostly uneventful as well; a big, sicky stagnate lake with millions of bugs and strange creators within. We tried to float but couldn’t and ended up only staying half the day.

What was more fun, was camping in a beautiful Park for free when all the flowers were in bloom. We spent our days in Salt Lake City eating good organic food, going to their amazing four story library, and checking out shops. We planned to part ways in Salt Lake City since I wanted to head towards my brother’s house in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Fred wanted to head to Yellowstone National Park.

We both thought it would good to have our own adventures for a little while, do some soul searching then meet back up down the road. However it was extremely hard and sad saying goodbye.

I had an 8 hour drive to Wyoming that was hot and boring. But Fred had an amazing first day hitch hiking. He got rides from many different people, one of which took them to their house and let him shower, do laundry, and then took him to a Moron softball game. He made it to Yellowstone no problem and got rides from nice people all around the park.

I spent almost a week visiting my amazing brother; watching funny standup, eating pizza, and experiencing an Air force Base. Military people and bases are very different from what I had been around for the past 7 months. Lots of rules, security checks, and the obvious: thinking my car was insane. They played music over the base and when heard everyone has to stop what they’re doing –even driving, as I was doing- and be quite while the music plays. Everyone has to where the same camo uniform and have their hair cut short. It reminded me of creepy Nazi’s.

I decided on day, screw it, I’m going to Colorado. I drove solo to the Rocky Mountain National Park and quickly learned that this was one of the most amazing parks in the world. The huge mountains were like nothing I have ever seen before! I did a 10 miles hike on my first full day there with a traveler from South Africa I met. We went to Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Bear Lake –I hiked through snow so deep it reached my knees even though I was wearing shorts and a T shirt in the heat of the day. I saw Marmots all around (it’s a cross between a beaver and a squirrel), lots of cool colored birds, ballsy chipmunks, and lots and lots of full grown Elk. The lakes themselves were small but so beautifully blue and green with the snowcapped mountains in the back ground. The sky was piercingly blue only to be covered with a wind shift to hazy gray because of the forest fire going on in the West side of the park.

Another day I met four hitch hikers, two of which from Australia and spent the day hiking with them. When hiking back from a couple waterfalls and more lakes alone I quickly decided to do another two and a half mile section of the trail. It was part of the forest that got burned up in the fire thus the trail signs got obliterated and even the trial itself was gone! I scaled up and down the mountain for over an hour trying to find a path, ankle deep in ash! Scare as that was to be lost and alone in the forest it was incredibly beautiful how the trees were charred black and ash was swirling everywhere, then suddenly green plants were popping out of random places all over. Luckily I had my cell phone and found a path using Google earth –thank you technology. That day I hiked over 16 miles!

In the morning I went to the visitors center where I had heard there was a coyote den nearby. I watched three wild coyote puppies play together and watched the momma coyote come and play too. It was magical! Most definitely the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life.

I did the entire scenic drive of the Rocky Mountains –my little car going 15 miles per hour up the steep mountains. The wind up at the top of insane -everyone had on coats and snow pants because of the extreme cold. It was so beautiful and peaceful, with clear blue skies and snow everywhere. At another visitor center up in the snow I told a ranger I planned to know go to a place called Glenwood Springs, which I had read has a large deposit of hot springs. I told him it was only 100 miles away so it wouldn’t take me long to get there. He laughed at me and said “sweetie, this is mountain driving. It will take you a good 8 hours to drive 100 miles!”

Never mind. I’ll go to Denver instead.

I ended up being able to crash at a buddy’s house in Denver and have lots of fun with him and his roommates of all of which from Hope College!

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